Public Librarians Symposium: Medical Library Association 2018

The Medical Library Association hosted a symposium for public library workers on the final two days of the conference. Tuesday was chock full of presentations and networking opportunities. Wednesday featured two plenaries, with Dara Richardson-Heron, MD and David Satcher, MD.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Symposium launched with breakfast. Barbara Epstein (MLA President), Patti Brennan (NLM Director), Scott Allen (PLA Deputy Director), Erika Lake (CAPHIS Chair), and Amanda Wilson (NNCO Head) welcomed attendees. This event represents a big collaboration!

At the heart of the Symposium is an effort by the National Library of Medicine to engage public librarians in learning about the All of Us program at the National Institutes of Health. My personal interest was to witness how NLM views the role of public libraries in health information dissemination, especially as Director Patti Brennan is not a librarian by trade.

My notes from Dr. Brennan’s talk. Literally, my notes: libraries as repositories of data; dissemination of data; coaching for literacy; NLM cannot do this without public libraries; fostering open science policies and practices; return science to society because society paid for it; engage with the public while protecting privacy; getting information to the citizens; citizen science; developing citizen understanding of data science; presenting information so that it is useful; getting information into the moments of your life.

PLA and NNLM. After the welcome, Scott Allen (PLA) and Liz Kiscaden (NNLM GMR) spoke about the Promoting Healthy Communities initiative, an ongoing partnership between the Public Library Association (PLA) and the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM). Kelli Ham (NNLM PSR) and Sandy White (Pima County Public Library, AZ) talked about the value of continuing education in consumer health information. Sandy’s perspective is especially relevant. In 2013, Pima County placed public health nurses in the public libraries on a rotating basis. The Library is a partner in the county’s health improvement plan.

Woman standing in front of sign for Atlanta-Fulton County Public Library.
Visiting the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library.

Atlanta-Fulton County Public Library. After the morning sessions, I strolled through downtown Atlanta. I grabbed a quick lunch at Slice Downtown, and circled round to visit the Atlanta-Fulton County Public Library. Built in 1980, the structure reminded me of my alma mater, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Nothing particularly charming about the concrete slab look. To enter the building, all visitors must have their bags searched. This surprised me.

I walked up several floors–Circulation on first floor, Reference on second floor, General Collections on third floor, Learning Center and public computers on fourth floor. I spoke with the security guard about the challenges facing the Central Library. Patrons with mental illness, drug addictions and lack of housing. We talked about the advantages of relationship-building, and the ability to avert conflict. He brought me up to the fifth floor, Special Collections.

After speaking with staff about research and genealogy services, I wandered through the Margaret Mitchell Exhibit, charmed by the “static collection… nothing may be removed or added (per terms of the will  [of John Marsh, Mitchell’s second husband]).” I made a mental note to suggest Gone with the Wind to my book group. Heading back to the Symposium, I contemplated the many facets of public libraries and the myriad roles of library staff.

Precision Medicine.  In the afternoon, Dr. Mylynda B. Massart (University of Pittsburg) gave a compelling talk about Precision Medicine. She referenced her own family medical history. She spoke of her concern for her African American patients, who are presenting aggressive forms of cancer. In this television interview , Dr. Massart explains genetic testing for cancer. She is an excellent spokesperson for All of Us.

G & T Networking. I walked through the Poster Session after Dr. Massart’s talk, taking photos of consumer-related posters. As the editor of the consumer health column of the Journal of Hospital Librarianship, I hope to approach the researchers for possible articles. I checked Twitter for the umpteenth time that day, and saw a tweet from Clare Davitt, public librarian from Bangor, ME. After a few quick exchanges, I joined her at the lobby bar for gin and tonic networking. We talked about our paths to librarianship, and our interests in community health.

During this fiscal year, I will be conducting Focused Outreach to Bangor. I explained to Clare that I would be conducting interviews in Bangor to learn about community health needs. We exchanged business cards–or, tried to. I managed to leave my business cards in my hotel room, and she had her City Counsel business card rather than her Bangor Public Library business card. We knew that we could find each other on Twitter.

Transforming Together. I returned to the Symposium in time for Dana Ladd (VCU)’s presentation on Providing Health Information to Patients: Development and Implementation of a Consumer Health Workshop for Librarians. Funded by NNLM Southeastern Atlantic Region, this project supported not only the development of a consumer health information workshop, but also travel and lodging for the public library participants.

Room Service Supper. I participated in the strategy session at the end of the Symposium, taking the opportunity to meet attendees from the New England Region. I was forgoing the Silver and Gold Networking Dinner. Instead, I retired to my room to get mentally prepared for the next day’s travel back to Massachusetts. I dialed room service, settling in for the night.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Drs. Dara Richardson-Heron and David Satcher gave the closing plenaries. The focus was on engaging diverse participants in research so that we gain understanding in the treatment and prevention of disease for all people.

Dr. Dara Richardson-Heron, Chief Engagement Officer for NIH’s All of Us program, alerted us to the task ahead: honesty and authenticity about past abuses in scientific research; humility in our need for diverse research participants; and generosity in sharing in the benefits of research. She announced the partnership between All of Us and the National Network of Libraries of Medicine. The goal of this partnership is to inform public library workers about NIH research, address health literacy/digital divide issues in the community, measure the impact of these efforts on All of Us enrollment, but NOT ask public libraries to enroll research participants.

Dr. David Satcher, Founding Director of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at the Morehouse School of Medicine and former United States Surgeon General, gave the final address. He spoke at length on the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male. The ramifications of this study are with us today. He spoke about the persistent gap in Black-White mortality rates. He told us that the number of African American men entering medical school today is no more than it was in 1978. “I hope you see the critical role information plays,” stated Dr. Satcher. He urged us to inform ourselves about Tuskegee, consider the significance of racial inequity and learn from each other.

Heading home. I attended the plenaries with my luggage. As the conference room emptied out, I made my way (along with many librarians) to the MARTA train. Airport bound. I am grateful for the opportunity to visit Atlanta, to learn from my colleagues and our esteemed presenters, and to remember the importance of knowing our history.

Book shelf with seventeen old books on Southern history.

Margaret Mitchell’s reference books on Southern history.